Five Things for Which I'm Proud (2009 edition)
If you were raised as I was, in the old school, American South way, meaning Sunday School on Sundays and heavy doses of "home training" anytime, anyplace, then you may know why an assignment to write about "five things you're proud of from 2009" shook me up a bit. I can only think of one moment in my personal history where saying "I'm proud," was cool with the folks, and the props go to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, for that.
Otherwise, "the subject 'I' with the predicate 'am proud' should be avoided if at all possible," is what I hear in my head with admonishments such as "Nobody likes a braggart" and "Pride goeth before a fall." I have to balance this kind of upbringing and emotional baggage with the trendy "evolved" lessons of later years on building self-esteem or "I'm okay. You're okay" and the spiritual wisdom of assessing one's life fairly.
Are you doing a balanced assessment of your life if you only assess failure, never success? Of course not. You're doing yourself a disservice if you forget the good and only look at areas in need of improvement, right? Furthermore, I've read that positive reinforcement is a better teaching method than regular recrimination. It's the better way to teach not only children but also adults. The good feeling we get when we remember what we've done well is the reward that motivates us to keep up the good work.
So, on with it. Please consider the first three paragraphs everything I had to write to feel comfortable telling you the five things of which I am honestly proud without feeling like I'm breaking every rule my mother taught me on potential consequences of overconfidence. And I've got to tell you that the following list comes easily. I remember the sense of achievement or pride I felt with each of these accomplishments, and by recalling them, I look forward to 2010, thinking my life's on an upswing.
Five Things I Am Proud of from 2009
1.) My son graduated from high school and entered college: Actually, in my family where everybody is expected to go to college and has been going since my maternal great-grandfather attended seminary and my maternal grandparents met at Tuskeegee Institute, some people would be shocked to learn that I secretly fretted over whether my son would make it to college. However, I had all kinds of fears for his future during and following my divorce five years ago.
In fact, my first post as a BlogHer.com Contributing Editor nearly three years ago was about "Mothering Against The Odds: Live Well in Spite of Those Bad Statistics." The day you wake up and realize that you're now a "single mother," someone you never expected to be and one of the people the sociologists keep studying only to say "they're doomed," and you're also way too familiar with disheartening data about black males because your son is a black male, is the day you trip from bed in a cold sweat. It's the day you draw on the best your ancestors instilled in you, the best your faith's taught you, and whatever measure of character you've developed to not crumble but stand firm.
So, now he's made it! I turned my life, his life, and his sister's life into something I'd never planned, and we hit a few bumps along the way, but we did it. Today, it's up to him to keep on doing it.
2.) My daughter's back in college: My daughter, 28, started her college journey on a free ride at Princeton University in New Jersey, and more than likely she will end it at the University of New Orleans in Louisiana. There's a long story with this, and it's not mine to tell alone. It's her story.
I can say, however, that some of why my daughter is this late getting back to college feels like my fault to me. Yes, I've got dreaded mommy guilt even about my 28-year-old related to how her father and I trashed our family life.
Let me emphasize that I said "some of why." We made mistakes but she did as well, not horrific mistakes just life lesson mistakes possibly exacerbated by her being distraught over her parents' choices, and she knows that. However, I hung onto her the way my parents hung on to me when I seemed to be sending my life down the drain.
I kept a light, motherly hand on her but still a hand, and she's a senior now, working a full-time job while finishing her degree. She's setting goals for her future. I am proud of her.
3.) I attended BlogHer.com's national conference for the first time in 2009: For some women to attend BlogHer conferences is no big deal and no financial burden. For others, like me, it's a very big deal. I had been trying to make it to a BlogHer conference for three years, this summer I finally did. It was a gift to myself and a vow not to break another promise to attend even if those broken promises in the past were beyond my control.
Attending was a milestone for me because it meant I was rising from the money pit in which I'd been drowning since I'd headed for and emerged from divorce. Going through divorce, one of the first things I knew I was no longer able to do for either myself or my children was take a vacation. So, in 2009, BlogHer was my first real vacation in five years and my daughter's as well. She went with me to Chicago, and so the trip was the first mother-daughter road trip where she helped with the driving. We had a good time.
4.) I applied to graduate school: Again, this accomplishment may sound like nothing to some people, but for me, applying to graduate school was a giant step in personal growth. You see, for years I've threatened to do this, but aside from money worries, I was afraid of taking the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), afraid to seek out recommendations if required, afraid to submit my mediocre accomplishments at midlife for some admissions department scrutiny, and afraid of rejection. Even now it's possible I have been rejected because I have yet to hear a response from the school to which I applied, but I'm still proud.
Applying to graduate school, after years of saying I would but never following through is a sign that I'm facing my fears. It's proof that I'm willing to take some of the same counsel I sometimes dish out at BlogHer.com, such as "Happiness Now! Just do it!" I keep telling readers that what I say to them is usually a message for me, and that's true.
So, by taking the GRE and submitting my application, I knew that I was healing from some of my life's battles and wounds. Thus, like a war veteran I am proud of my scars. They shout "Here's a survivor."
5.) I have finished my first novel: WooHoo! is the first thing that comes to mind and no amount of misunderstanding my southern home training, no fear that some devil will slap me down on a pride going before a fall technicality will stop me from saying "I am proud that I've finished a novel!"
People online who've read my whining on not yet finishing a novel know why I say this. See omphaloskepsis. Like number four on this list of five in which the source of not moving forward was fear, I'm positive it was fear that kept me from finishing a novel in the past, but this year I risked potential humiliation by participating in National Novel Writing month and I won, me and tons of others. We completed the challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
Some people did it for the heck of it, but for me it was a spiritual quest of which the next step is to embrace the life I've always said I wanted. I'm editing the book now and sometimes rewriting and adding material. The work is more actual novel length today, growing from the 51,975 words I had at the end of NaNoWriMo to 66,000 words, and as I said on my novel info at the NaNoWriMo site, where you may read an excerpt, it's a companion to part of a series.
I keep thinking of what one writer told me years back, that finishing a novel for the natural writer can't be only about "hope that someone will publish it." It has to be as much about finishing for the sake of seeing your story unfold as it is about any practical concern, such as food on the table. He was right.
At this moment, my daughter is at the kitchen table reading the first draft of The Lost Memoir of Orina Tureaud by Nordette Adams, and I am very proud that draft exists. It's not the best novel ever. I can think of some fiction I've written, the beginning of novels that are better, but this one trumps all because it's been written. Yes, I am proud of that journey.
So, now, with my fellow BlogHer CE Zandria, I've looked back at 2009 for what's good, and so, I'm hopeful about the next chapter of my true life story, 2010, when I will turn 50. It's all about the journey, you know, and the places we will go and the lessons we will learn.